With the return of the Champions League, as well as regular domestic games and other competitions, February is always a hectic month in the soccer world. It is no surprise that many players get injured — we are looking at you, Wayne Rooney. With the Premier League not in action at the moment, I would like to focus on one of my favorite competitions in the world: the Football Association Challenge Cup.
The FA Cup started in 1871, making it the oldest soccer competition in the world. In the last 144 years, there have been 42 different tournament winners. Arsenal currently holds the record for most wins at 12, although Manchester United and Tottenham are not far behind with 11 and eight, respectively. While it can be very difficult to find a good stream of the games online, it is absolutely worth your while to do so.
The FA Cup is very inclusive of the lesser English clubs, which is one of the reasons I love it so much. With 92 clubs from the Premier League all the way down through League Two of the Football League, joined by 32 other qualifying teams, this is the one competition where some of these lower league teams have a chance to make themselves known. In Round Three this year, Liverpool was forced to go into a replay against League Two side Exeter City. It was nerve-wracking to think that the Reds would compete against such a tiny team. Exeter City’s stadium was perhaps slightly bigger than Georgetown’s own Cooper Field, and the cameramen were often focused on people in the crowd rather than the game. But for one glorious half — after halftime, Liverpool finally remembered how to score goals — the Exeter City fans believed.
Another reason I love the FA Cup is that upsets can happen. While we have not experienced very many this year, they are still beautiful to see. Last year, League One side Bradford — some of you might recognize this as the club famously supported by former One Direction singer Zayn Malik — beat Chelsea, which was in the middle of steamrolling its way to the Premier League title by a score of 4-2 in the fourth round. In 2013, just after finding out that it was going to be relegated, Wigan actually won the FA Cup against Manchester City; in doing so, it became the first team to win the FA Cup and be relegated in the same season. While it is typically more common for a big Premier side club to win, the fact that technically anyone can win makes the FA Cup special.
It makes me upset to hear that the Football Association — the organization that governs English soccer — is considering doing away with replays in the FA Cup. It is true that they can be very annoying — after all, it means that we have to watch a meaningless tie to get to the replay. I am also sure that replays are a nuisance to the big clubs themselves, especially when they keep happening — ahem, Liverpool — because it means an extra game in an already crowded schedule. However, the replays are what really matter to the little teams. It keeps the dream alive, it gives the smaller clubs the chance to host a replay game and get extra revenue and it allows for the possibility of an upset. In this year’s third round, Premier League team West Bromwich Albion narrowly won in penalties in a replay against League One side Peterborough. Rather fittingly, West Brom was just knocked out by Championship side Reading in the fifth round.
As we head into the sixth round of this year’s FA Cup, Reading is the only small team left. Shrewsbury — League One — and Blackburn — Championship — are likely going to be knocked out in their fifth-round games by Manchester United and West Ham United, respectively. In terms of upsets, this just was not the year. But the beauty of the FA Cup is that there is always next year.
Premier League action finally returns Feb. 27. Regrettably, both the Merseyside Derby — Liverpool-Everton — and Manchester United-Arsenal have been postponed due to FA Cup games. Luckily, the first week of March sees weekday Premier League games, although there really is only one exciting game. Liverpool will try to see if it can pull off another upset against Manchester City on Wednesday, March 2. Overall, the next few weeks do not feature that many important games — but hey, at least we have something to fill our weekends up with again.